The USA were lacking most of the superstar names that have seen them dominate international football, but the young squad on display in Sydney proved good enough to defeat Australia in their own back yard.
A goal inside 30 seconds proved crucial with Australia’s callow central defensive partnership of Jessika Nash and Courtney Nevin gifting Ashley Hatch her second international strike and allowing the USWNT to defend in numbers and protect their lead.
Opportunities came and went for both sides in an end-to-end first half with the Matildas looking dangerous down the left when Sam Kerr linked up with Caitlin Foord. Kyah Simon will rue an awful miss from point-plank range.
And that shocker was reinforced shortly after the interval when Margaret Purce’s pace opened the door for the excellent Rose Lavelle to hammer home. A soft penalty to Lindsey Horan sealed the deal.
Horan, wearing the recently vacated No 10 jersey, was the leading outfield player, directing her side from midfield and always offering an outlet. But the game’s individual star was debutant goalkeeper Casey Murphy. The 25-year-old made a couple of eye-catching saves, but more than that, she commanded her penalty area and played with an assurance that belied her inexperience.
For Australia, the experiment with an untested central defensive combination lasted only until half-time, but whether it’s employing novices or veterans Tony Gustavsson has his work cut out drilling his side not to concede poor goals. For all the brio going forward the lapses at the back throughout 2021 have been embarrassing for a side aiming to win a World Cup in 18 months.
But, with a record crowd in attendance, despite Sydney’s lousy weather, the bandwagon continues to build towards WWC 2023 on home soil.
This particular caravan rattles north to Newcastle for the second leg of this double-header on Tuesday. It would be nice if there was no need for anyone to trot out the “had their opportunities” and “hard done to” homilies after that one, or at least turn a more critical eye to why they are expressed so often.
The immediate reaction on Australian TV includes the phrases: “definitely had their opportunities,” and “hard done to by the scoreline.” A familiar refrain in 2021.
Full-time: Australia 0-3 USA
A young USWNT scored early in each half, and tucked away a penalty, to see off the Matildas in front of a record crowd in Sydney.
89 mins: Only two clean sheets in that time too, it should be added, and another showing this afternoon that raises serious questions about the readiness at the back for a World Cup on home soil.
85 mins: As an aside, Gustavsson’s record after today’s defeat will read: 15 matches in charge for only three wins and nine defeats. He has avoided even a glimmer of scrutiny so far, but at some point surely all the positivity around the Matildas and his history with the US is overtaken by cold hard reality?
83 mins: Australia’s attacking structure has disintegrated. A lovely build-up ended up being recycled backwards when nobody made a run into the box. Then a hopeful long-ball targeted nobody. Until eventually the US cleared and Horan almost found another cutback assist but van Egmond was on hand to cut out.
79 mins: As the substitutions grow in number we are in danger of petering out here in Sydney.
78 mins: Not for the first time today Australia are caught out playing out from the back. Huerta on this occasion is alert to the telegraphed switch from the base of midfield to the left fullback.
77 mins: The US are running down the clock where they can, taking the sting out of the closing stages.
75 mins: Carpenter intercepts and storms out of the centre of defence. She feeds Raso down the right, but her cross is poor – and there was nobody attacking the six-yard box anyway.
74 mins: Horan has been on the receiving end of some treatment by the Matildas this afternoon, much of it, I expect, retribution for the penalty incident.
72 mins: Promising for Australia down the left after good work from Catley but Yallop’s lung-busting run is undermined by a woefully overhit return pass.
69 mins: Another good save to add to Murphy’s collection. Fowler did well to work herself some space and face forward before unleashing a fierce left-footed drive that Murphy is forced to tip over the bar.
GOAL! Australia 0-3 USA (Horan, 68 pen)
The visitors mount a scrappy attack, Horan chases the loose ball, Carpenter’s leg reaches out, the attacker finds it, tumbles, and the referee points to the spot. Very soft, but probably just about there. Carpenter was asking for trouble, even if Horan did make a meal of things.
Horan picks herself up and smashes an unstoppable spot kick beyond Micah and into the side of the net.
65 mins: Without Kerr Australia have lost their structure. Fowler and Foord are buzzing around, but the purposeful vertical passes that have forced the US back four into decisions have gone.
63 mins: Sam Kerr’s day is over. She got through 60 minutes despite not being fully fit. Cooney-Cross is on for her 13th cap.
60 mins: Chance at the other end now with Williams forcing Micah into a low save after Australia failed to deal with another bouncing ball. Gustavsson still has plenty of organisational work to do in that third of the pitch.
59 mins: Chance! Grant does superbly to burn through the US defence to collect a loose ball on the right and dink over an inch perfect cross for Kerr but the striker’s header is straight at Murphy, once again in the right place at the right time.
57 mins: Sloppy from the US playing out of defence and Foord pressures Davdison into a heart-stopping moment, but the block tackle ricochets out of play.
54 mins: There’s been plenty of neat attacking football this afternoon, but debutant Casey Murphy has been flawless in goal. This has been a superb, confident, eye-catching debut.
53 mins: First decent move of the half from the Matildas with Foord and Kerr sharing a one-two to carve open the US defence down the left until Kerr’s cross is blocked for corner. That pairing has offered Australia the most joy this afternoon.
52 mins: Another half-chance for the US. Horan whips in the cross from the left, Hatch wins the header at the near post but she can’t find the angle with Micah stranded.
GOAL! Australia 0-2 USA (Lavelle, 49)
Picture the archetypal Man City goal. Purce is too quick and strong to get around the outside of Australia’s defence on the right. She gets to the byline and pulls the ball back for Lavelle to drill home from 8 yards out. Micah will be disappointed the shot beat her low to her left, but it was fiercely struck from point-blank range. Just like the first half, the US are out of the blocks early.
48 mins: Another of the Aussies to endure horror moments that first half, Kiyah Simon, has also been hooked. Hayley Raso and Charlotte Grant are on. For the US, Huerta is on for Fox.
47 mins: Some reshuffling for both teams at the break, including Carpenter shifting from the right to the centre of defence in place of 17-year-old Nash. That might make sense defensively for the Matildas, but it also robs them of their primary attacking weapon down the right.
46 mins: We’re back underway at Stadium Australia.
Half-time: Australia 0-1 USA
That was a very entertaining half of football. How it is only 1-0 is beyond me.
45 mins: Australia should equalise in the last minute of the half. Fowler is superb, profiting from a turnover in midfield and driving forward before sliding through an inch-perfect through-ball for Kerr, but the sharpshooter’s left-footed finish is tame and the superb Murphy is equal to it. The debutant is at it again soon afterwards, tipping over from Foord’s rising drive.
42 mins: Gustavsson has empowered his central defenders to carry the ball through the lines and into midfield. It is, to put it politely, a bold gambit. Nevin has attempted the manoeuvre on a few occasions and while the bravery is to be admired the execution has lacked precision. With 18-months until the World Cup, it could blossom into a defining characteristic, but it also may end up blowing up in Australia’s faces if there is insufficient cover.
40 mins: But at the other end Australia are being opened up with regularity too. This time Williams doesn’t even get a shot away despite the ball rolling in her direction just 14 yards out. 1-0 is an unlikely scoreline given the chances.
39 mins: Fowler has a snapshot from the edge of the box but Murphy is well positioned again. Australia are opening up the USA consistently.
38 mins: Oh wow. Simon has just earned herself a place on highlights reels all over the world. Foord hunts down an overhit cross, dances into the box, squares the ball to Simon inside the six-yard box with the goal at her mercy, and she slams her left footed effort over the bar. That will haunt a striker on any pitch anywhere in the world. Incredible miss.
37 mins: After that bright start Fowler has gone missing – which is a familiar criticism of the talented prodigy.
35 mins: Purce has to score! Long ball over the top catches the Australian defence flat footed but she lashes over the bar with only Micah to beat. Poor finish with much more time to pick her spot than she realised.
33 mins: First decent strike on target for the Matildas, but Simon shoots straight at Murphy after good work from Kerr. The latter then takes matters into her own hands, striking dangerously from range, drawing a top class save from Murphy, plucking the ball out of her top-left corner. The debutant follows all that with a commanding mark from the resulting corner. Excellent few minutes from the newcomer.
32 mins: Murphy does well to claim a decent cross from van Egmond. Gustavsson will be disappointed it was an unopposed catch on the penalty spot, exactly where runners should have been steaming in for the finish. The US go down the other end and earn the match’s first corner.